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Submitted Literature

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

By Styron William


Styron, as a writer and as a sufferer of depression, manages to convey its paradoxical inexpressibility.  Depression is formed of loss; of self-confidence, motivation, belief that life is worth living.  It is horrific, and this horror is acutely difficult to both accurately portray and explain to others.  Yet Styron manages to say the un-sayable, speak the un-speakable and write the un-writable.  His text gives hope, even in the darkest times when he considered taking his own life.  As well as being inexpressible, depression can be incomprehensible. Styron demonstrates this incomprehensibility, particularly with regards the accompanying anxiety that he suffered and the seemingly unfathomable behaviours that occurred – being entirely unable to communicate with friends, for example. William Styron’s “Darkness Visible” is quite simply the best account of depression that I have ever read.  Beautifully written, it is brutally honest and captures in acute and painful detail the steady fall into depression – the ‘despair beyond despair’ – that afflicts so many.   

Key Themes:

  • Anxiety
  • Autobiography
  • Carer Issues
  • Creativity and Madness
  • Depression

Significant Quotes / Pages

83-85 - “To most of those who have experienced it, the horror of depression is so overwhelming as to be quite beyond expression, hence the frustrated sense of inadequacy found in the work of even the greatest artists.  But in science and art the search will doubtless go on for a clear representation of its meaning, which sometimes, for those who have known it, is a simulacrum of all the evil of our world: of our everyday discord and chaos, our irrationality, warfare and crime, torture and violence, impulse toward death and flight from it held in the intolerable equipoise of fishery.  If our lives have no other configuration but this, we should want, and perhaps deserve, to perish; if depression had no termination, then suicide would, indeed, be the only remedy.  But one need not sound the false or inspirational note to stress the truth that depression is not the soul's annihilation; men and women who have recovered from the disease - and they are countless - bear witness to what is probably its only saving grace: it is conquerable.

For those who have dwelt in depression’s dark wood, and known its inexplicable agony, their return from the abyss is not unlike the assent of the poet, trudging upward and upward out of hell’s black depths and at last emerging into what he saw as ‘the shining world.’  There, whoever has been restored to health has almost always been restored to the capacity for serenity and joy, and this may be indemnity enough for having endured the despair beyond despair”

Reference: Styron, William. 1990. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. New York: Random House, 1990


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009